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With Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf barnstorming around the country pitching his best seller, along comes a thoughtful, quiet biography of "Stormin' Norman's" boss, Gen. Colin Powell.

Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, has led an extraordinary life. He's seen both the good and bad of America, from "Fort Apache" in the Bronx, where he was reared, to the Oval Office, where he has served as a White House fellow, national security adviser, and where he frequently visits now as President Bush's chief military adviser.Powell - if we are to believe author Howard Means - is the incarnation of the American dream. Powell wasn't a particularly good student, but he had outstanding role models within his immediate family and among his childhood friends. All wanted to succeed and wanted him to succeed, and apparently he has disappointed no one and he surprised many on his way.

Some of the highlights: He received only C's from City College of New York but did well in his ROTC courses. He earned his commission and from almost the beginning decided to make the military his career.

He is the only chairman of the Joint Chiefs ever to have fought in a war below the rank of lieutenant colonel - his first tour of duty in Vietnam he was a captain.

He holds many firsts as an African-American - first black national security adviser to the president, first black JCS chairman, first black commander of this corps or that.

Means' biography also gives Powell the chance to rebut many of the false impressions about him earned - either fairly or unfairly - during his career. Is he only a political hack, not a true combat officer, so he got where he is because of the people he knows? Did he really oppose sending U.S. combat forces to the Persian Gulf? What was his role during Iran-Contra? How did Powell deal with Schwarzkopf's demands? All of these are answered or at least commented on by Powell and the 120 others Means interviewed for this biography.

Other things that make this biography worth more than a superficial glance: How Congress has altered the position of chairman of the Joint Chiefs from what it was during the Vietnam War. The feelings among American blacks toward Jamaican immigrants. Whether Powell pronounces his first name CAH-lin or COH-lin. The book also contains a dozen or so photographs of Powell in both official and family settings and the index contains the text of the Bud MacFarlane memo to Shultz and Weinberger outlining the Iran arms for hostages deal.

Powell's second two-term as JCS chairman expires on Sept. 30, 1993. What's ahead? Head of NATO? Some directorship on a Fortune 500 company? Speeches - at $50,000 a talk? Political office? We'll have to wait and see, but considering where Powell started and where he is now - where he's going should be no surprise to anyone.


(Additional information)

Excerpt from `Colin Powell'

Shortly after he returned from Vietnam, Powell tried to order a hamburger at a restaurant called Buck's Barbeque in nearby Columbus (near Fort Benning, Ga). The waitress - a "nice lady," he told Ebony magazine - asked him if he was an African student. "No," Powell answered. "A Puerto Rican?" "No." "You're Negro," she said. "That's right." "Well, I can't bring out a hamburger. You'll have to go to the back door" - where blacks traditionally came in to place their orders. "I wasn't even trying to do a sit-in," Powell said. "All I wanted was a hamburger." Five months later, after the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 had been enacted - forbidding among other things segregation in places of public accommodation - "I went back to the restaurant and got my hamburger." Three decades later, the road that Buck's sits on would be named Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. . . .